As B’nai Israel members know, the fall calendar is filled with Jewish holidays. While the Days of Awe garner most of the attention, an equally important part of the package is Sukkot, beginning 5 days after Yom Kippur.
The entire package feels more substantively connected to our life reality, given so much going on in the world.
Yom Kippur reminds you that people cannot simply keep doing what they always do and hope/assume life will get better. Its premise that is challenging for many people is that regardless of your habits and ways of doing things, change is an ongoing part of reality, i.e. every moment is a first, and that means, no matter how old you are, it is never too late to change, to grow, to improve how you interact with people and handle challenges.
Clearly such change is vital because world conditions demand it: whether it is how you use this planet’s resources, or how you participate in alleviating a growing gap between haves and have-nots, or growing in awareness of how you are needed to join with other communities and forces (i.e. as in CBI’s membership in Common Ground) to tackle societal challenges that are too big for any one person or group, alone.
Jewishly, it means becoming better informed about the vitality of values of caring and sharing who/what we are with those that do not understand what makes Judaism different from other programs in life, in its focus on community. It also means re-committing to Israel’s place and role in this world as spiritual home of the Jewish people and to better understand the nuances of its place in the Middle East and the necessity of being unwavering in support for its health and future. I highly recommend Ari Shavit’s book My Promised Land to help inform you on the complexity of both the history of Israel and its challenges in today’s world, presented by one who does not sugar coat any of it.
The Sukkot holiday both contextualizes life’s harvest and orients you in priorities for this New Year, 5775, in which there is so much to do to make it a safer and healthier world. Sukkot is grounded in a paradoxical teaching, the book of Kohelet, Ecclesiastes, which seems on first glance the last work one would read to celebrate life and its harvest. It is seemingly such a downer: all is vanity…there is nothing new under the sun. It is riddled with negativity and pessimism. Yet, its value to Sukkot in enabling you to fully appreciate the harvest to celebrate is found in the last verse of this work attributed to King Solomon when he was an old man: “The sum of the matter, when all is said and done: Revere God and observe God’s Mitzvot. For that is the substance of what it is to be a human being”. These words remind you that human beings were put on this planet to live responsibly and to make God whole/One (as in the mandate of the Shema) by doing God’s will rather than living as if “I…my family…my group…my community…my country…is all that matters”. You are on this planet to tend to this world and all its inhabitants.
The harvest of Sukkot celebrates human possibility in utilizing all of your God-given talents/attributes/wherewithal to turn from bad to good, to change behavior from focusing not on negatives and disappointments in your life but on positives and blessings and finding people that share such values of sharing, caring and embracing responsibility, not as a burden, and with resentment, but as an opportunity to make your life meaningful and even fulfilling.
With the overwhelming challenges facing us and our world as we enter 5775, we need the complete fall package of Jewish holidays more than we usually notice. Change is in the air in terms of world stability and security, and change is a constant in our lives to be taken seriously and even enthusiastically, that we develop and grow tools for more effectively addressing life’s challenges as we join with others, both within CBI and beyond (I.e. as partners in Common Ground, locally) to do what no one alone feels capable of attempting.
Sukkot reminds you to keep your focus on what matters more than what usually grabs your attention; it isn’t about all the stuff you can acquire…keeping up with the latest technological gadgets and toys and wrapping yourself in the comfort of things you can buy in stores or online, especially when you feel down. Sukkot reminds you that the genuine harvest is in the people and relationships you grow and develop and the times you share to figure out how to more effectively add your support to bettering conditions in this world and making it a safer future for your children and grandchildren and the children and grandchildren of people around the world.
While Sukkot would have us dream of a world of Shalom, Judaism in all its detailed observances and teachings reminds us that to work on that dream requires attention to decisions made day by day and moment by moment, to make as much of life as we can blessings for all those with whom we share the miracle of life. That is what the closing words of Kohelet/Ecclesiastes provide for us as our mandate in making it worthwhile that God created this world and gave us the opportunity and responsibility to tend it.
I look forward to being with you in celebrating life in its fullest, at our Yom Kippur service and throughout Sukkot: Oct 8 at 7:30 PM, Oct. 9 at 10 AM and Oct. 16 at 6:30 PM when we celebrate the ending and beginning of the Torah, our Loaners Manuel for living in this complicated world that is our home.